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updated: 4/28/2014 1:29 PM

Cantigny marks 25 years of golf excellence

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  • The Cantigny Golf Course in Wheaton is marking its 25th year as a premier public golf course

    The Cantigny Golf Course in Wheaton is marking its 25th year as a premier public golf course

  • The ninth green of the Lakeside course at Cantigny Golf Course.

    The ninth green of the Lakeside course at Cantigny Golf Course.
    Daily Herald file photo

By Kent McDill
Daily Herald Correspondent

Twenty-five years ago in April, a gorgeous property in the Western suburbs became home to what is now one of the prettiest golf courses in the area.

On June 5, 1989, Cantigny Golf enjoyed its official opening day, welcoming all golfers to the 27-hole course set on the 500-acre park in Wheaton. But in April, when that winter cleared, the first 18 holes provided sport for test rounds on the course.

Cantigny Golf is located on the southern half of Cantigny Park, which hosts the gardens, picnic and camping area, and the two museums -- Robert R. McCormick Museum and First Division Museum -- which have made the site home since the late 1950s.

Cantigny Park is on the former estate of Joseph Medill and his grandson, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, who were the publishers of the Chicago Tribune. When McCormick, a former World War 1 officer, died in 1955, he left his fortune to establish what is now the McCormick Foundation, and also left instructions to transform Cantigny into a park for the use of the general public.

In the late 1980s, the Board of the McCormick Foundation decided to dedicate a portion of the land to the game of golf, and thus was born Cantigny Golf, with a course designed by Roger Packard.

"That area was being used by local equestrian people living in the area from the horse farms nearby, and they were concerned they were going to lose their chance to ride their horses around the property," said current executive director Mike Nass, who was the on-site manager of construction hired in 1987 by the foundation to build the course that opened in 1989. "There was the normal concern that we were going to create extra traffic out on the roads coming into the park, but the complaints were nothing more than the normal."

When the course first accepted golfers, before the official opening, there were only 18 holes ready, but by the grand opening, the third set of nine holes were prepared, and golfers were allowed to use all 27 holes.

Along with the golf course, there was a new clubhouse built, to allow for a pro shop and a restaurant and lounge for the golfers to enjoy.

In 1999, the foundation included construction of the 1,000-yard course known as the Youth Links, for young golfers, with holes ranging from 40 to 160 yards. In 2008, the club added the Cantigny Golf Academy, a full-service practice and teaching center.

In the club's 25 years, it has hosted the 2007 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, and the 2008 Illinois State Amateur Championship.

When McCormick directed in death the creation of the park, he declared that it would be a place for the public to enjoy. The golf course maintains that status as a public course available to all, with no membership fees required.

According to Nass, when the course opened, they had a set of two nine-hole courses designated as their 18-hole course, with the other nine-hole course designed to be a little bit easier. But after a few years, the demand for 18-hole play increased, so they built up the third nine so that there were three nine-hole courses of decent length and difficulty to offer.

When golfers go to Cantigny to play, they are offered (or assigned, if there is no preference), the opportunity to play the Woodside nine

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followed by the Lakeside nine, or they can start on the Lakeside and go to the Hillside nine, or they start on the Hillside nine and finish on the Woodland. In effect, Cantigny offers three different 18-hole courses to play with only 27 holes on the property.

"That increased our 18-hole capacity by about 30 percent," Nass said.

In the 1990s, Cantigny added about 500 yards to each of the three courses in an attempt to make them more acceptable for the major tournaments the course would host. Nass said today the hardest set of two nines to play is starting on Woodside and going on to Lakeside. "That is the combination we use for the State Amateur and the Public Links Championships,'' he said.

Cantigny will again hold major tournaments, including the 2014 Illinois State Amateur Championship, but as one of the area's premier public courses, it does not aim to be a tournament course on a continual basis.

"Our one goal is the normal daily high-quality servicing of our guests," Nass said.

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